Johnston Press this week launched its first digital-led title, targeting millennial readers in the city of Belfast.
BelfastVibe will offer trending news, entertainment and lifestyle stories on topics such as fashion, travel and technology, designed to appeal to the 18 to 34-year-old audience.
"None of our current products really cater for that younger, emerging millennial market," explained Warren Butcher, managing director of the new site.
There were around 600,000 people living in the greater Belfast area, around 130,000 of whom fit BelfastVibe's target age bracket – a decent-sized audience on which to test drive the new site.
"If you look at that age group and you look at it from a Johnston Press perspective, there's around 13 million millennials across the UK market," said Butcher.
Experimenting with standalone, sub-branded sites is one way regional legacy media companies are attempting to target different needs and younger demographics in order to ensure their relevancy and sustainability.
The Wolverhampton-based Express & Star launched its ents-focused site Native Monster 18 months ago, while the Manchester Evening News launched City Life site in 2008, quietly folded back into the main MEN site in 2013.
However, Butcher is optimistic about the success of BelfastVibe. The site will "talk directly" to younger audiences, he explained, unbridled by any of Johnston Press's other brands.
"We've done some quite extensive research into the likes and dislikes of this group of people... if we look at the city of Belfast to try and cater for them in the right way then that may give us the opportunity to try this elsewhere as well".
The format of BelfastVibe is highly visual, with short-form stories and snappy headlines designed to encourage sharing and engagement (for example: Take a Belfast selfie and win tickets to the biggest gig of the summer and 9 of the best places to eat globally in Belfast).
Naturally, the site also has a social presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, which Butcher says will be "used to drive people back" to the site, as well as a regular newsletter.
Screenshot from BelfastVibe.com
Eagle-eyed readers might spot something of a BuzzFeed feel to BelfastVibe, although according to Butcher the design and editorial were mainly influenced by the Boston Globe's BCDwire.com, which JP's chief digital officer, Jeff Moriarty, brought across the pond from his former role as the Globe's vice president for digital products.
The site was put together in just eight weeks and is responsive, an essential function for a generation who receive most of their news and information via mobile.
However, BelfastVibe isn't completely bypassing JP's print heritage – a free weekly magazine-style paper featuring stories from the site will also be launched on April 9, presumably placed in hot spots around the city with the aim of making the brand more visible.
The core team responsible for the site consists of two "content developers", recruited internally, and two salespeople.
Over the last last five or six weeks the two editorial staff have been immersed in learning how to write for younger audiences, said Butcher, in a manner he described as "very human, very personal".We've given them no boundaries to work withWarren Butcher, BelfastVibe
"Really we're just trying to deliver [stories] in a way that's easy to digest and easy to share... We've given them no boundaries to work with, they just know how to write for that particular audience".
However, it is perhaps telling that the pair are referred to as "content developers" rather than journalists or editors.
As well as original stories and content shared from other Johnston Press sites, BelfastVibe will operate a "blogger outreach program" via Belfast's blog community, universities and further education outlets, as Butcher puts it, "so we can start to create a platform for those people as well".
The site will be monetised initially though display advertising, although the team will be exploring "a range of options around native advertising" over the next few weeks.
Even so, Butcher is aware of the need to match to steer clear of anything which might alienate BelfastVibe's new readership.
Key to the site's success, he said, will be to "know the audience we're writing to and know the things that make them tick, and know the things that actually turn them off and would be counter to what their beliefs".
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